The former commander of a company attached to the Karen National Liberation Army’s Sixth Battalion was expulsed because of unauthorised peace negotiations with Burma’s ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council.
“I am yet to see any official communication, but the decision was taken about a month ago, as soon as we had confirmed he had been to Rangoon,” said KNU vice president, David Thackrabaw.
Tay Lay’s first visit to Rangoon, and reportedly Naypidaw, occurred in December last year.
At the time, just days before his departure, Tay Lay told this correspondent the meeting had been delayed because of the People’s Alliance for Democracy seizure of Bangkok International Airport.
A delegation of senior Thai generals, international observers from Australia and the United Kingdom and Tay Lay was waiting for the earliest opportunity to fly to Rangoon, he said.
Tay Lay said the Thai generals and the SPDC wanted border tensions eased to clear the way for lucrative trade deals.
The delegation included former KNLA Brigadier-General Htin Maung and allegedly the controversial “Pastor Timothy”, both considered traitors by the KNU.
In January 2007 former KNLA Seventh Brigade commander Htin Maung split to create the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army – Peace Council.
The SPDC has since asked Htin Maung to provide border security around Three Pagodas Pass - feeding into Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok - in exchange for a cut of revenues from tax “gates” between the neighbouring countries.
Some observers consider the late General Bo Mya to have pioneered the way for such deals with “gentleman’s” peace agreements with the SPDC.
Tay Lay’s attitude would seem to confirm this theory.
The late general’s youngest son specifically referred to meetings between his father and the SPDC.
“They [the SPDC] want to deal with Bo Mya’s family because the KNU is considered weak,” he said.
Htin Maung was one of Bo Mya’s cousins.
“But the Burmese knew Bo Mya was a man of his word and held huge respect among Karen people and if he said something would happen, it happened,” said Tay Lay on November 29, 2008.
“The last time my father met with them, they agreed to give back parcels of land in Seventh, Fourth and Fifth Brigade areas.”
He said the latest round of talks related to ceasefires in Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Brigade regions in return for parcels of land.
But David Thackrabaw was insistent Tay Lay’s actions had nothing to do with disenchantment with the KNU, but rather were motivated by his personal financial position.
Tay Lay’s wife was recently seriously ill and he was struggling to pay her hospital bill, forcing him to ask anyone that might come to his assistance for cash.
Asked how he thought the KNU would react to his meeting, Tay Lay said he didn’t think they would be “very happy”, which could go down as one of last year’s great understatements.
But he was unrelenting in his criticisms of the KNU, perhaps looking to disguise his family’s predicament.
He said he was confident he was charting the right course for the future survival of his people, victims of a campaign of genocide.
“I don’t care, the KNU must improve,” he said.
“When we are fighting the KNU doesn’t help, all the leaders live in Thailand and are happy to stay there. They are old men,” he said.
“But people can’t stay in their villages and are fleeing to Thailand and then end up in a third country [as a result of rapid international relocation programmes transplanting refugee camp populations from Thailand to various parts of the globe].
“This we have to stop,” said Tay Lay.
But these comments came from an exhausted man, who just weeks earlier had been at the wheel of his pickup every day, ferrying KNLA soldiers, food and arms to hotspots along the border, taking sleep when he could.
In his wife’s absence he nursed his son, a mere toddler, on many of the trips.
To then turn around and negotiate with the enemy seems erratic behaviour.
The most recent conversation this correspondent had with Tay Lay was last week, when he said he believed Htin Maung had chosen the right path.
“We must talk, some brigades, all they want to do is fight, but we are weak, we cannot just fight, yes there is a time for fighting, but there is also a time for talking,” he said in the Thai border town of Mae Sot.
Tay Lay then said he intended to return to talks with the SPDC.
Mention of this discussion raised David Thackrabaw’s eyebrows.
“He’s not still driving around and being seen in Mae Sot is he?” asked the KNU vice president.
“He shouldn’t stay here, he has to leave, [his continued presence] would constitute a corrupting influence for the others,” he said.
He said the only reason more severe punishment had not been meted out to Tay Lay was the deep respect the KNU leadership had for his mother Naw Lar Poe, Bo Mya’s widow.
“We don’t want to upset her, but his mother will have to deal with her son’s problem,” said David Thackrabaw.
Such an attitude is indicative of the compassion with which even war is approached by the greater Karen family and the respect the late Bo Mya commands, even in death.
Naw Lar Poe’s deep and unbending commitment to her people was the only reason Tay Lay “hasn’t been shot”, said David Thackrabaw.
One of the late General Bo Mya’s sons, Tay Lay Mya, has been excommunicated by the Karen National Union.